That Amazing Unfair Grace Thing

That Amazing Unfair Grace Thing

Is God unfair?

What if the answer is well… yes, kind of, actually…

Because of that annoying, amazing, outrageous thing called grace.

On a forum the other day, I read a post about how unfair God seemed to be. The poster didn’t think that the concept of forgiveness was a just one, particularly the no-holds-barred reckless forgiveness that we find in the Christian faith. She didn’t think it right that someone who had been bad all their life could simply say ‘sorry’ and be forgiven. That’s not right, is it? People should earn forgiveness, not just ask for it and be granted it in that moment. How could that possibly be fair? No, she said, she wouldn’t want anything to do with a God like that.

In Matthew 20, Jesus tells a parable about a vineyard owner who employs some workers for the day. He agrees a price with them – one denarius – and they get on with the job, happy enough with the deal.

But then he hires a few more, later in the day, and then more after that. He’s still hiring these guys at the eleventh hour. So when the time arrives for payments to be handed out, the people who were hired first thing in the morning put their hands out, expecting payment in kind for their long hours, and watch those who were hired last, expecting them to be paid a small fraction of what they got.

After all, that would be the fair thing to do. Right?

They’re pretty disgusted when they realise the owner has given every single worker there the same amount – that one denarius the first workers were promised. They kick off against him. ‘Those guys only worked an hour! We’ve been slogging all day in the heat – and you give them the same? That’s not cool.’

But the owner turns it on its head. ‘I’ve not been unfair. I’ve paid you what we agreed. It’s up to me what I give the others – and I want to give them the same. My money, my choice. Perhaps you don’t like it that I want to be generous with what I have?’

We don’t know what their response was, but we can imagine. They might have sloped away, casting rancour-filled glances back at the owner, muttering to each other. ‘I won’t work for him again.’

Jesus ended this parable with a subversive and topsy-turvy statement of God’s grace: ‘So the last will be first, and the first will be last’.

It’s hard to understand, isn’t it? Our minds are just as much filled with bitterness and resentment. Why should they get as much as us? Why should people who have wronged us get forgiven? Why should the last be first?

Why should they get as much as us? Why should people who have wronged us get forgiven? Why should the last be first?

That’s not fair!

But Jesus never promised to be fair – at least, not in the way we see ‘fairness’. Jesus rushed in with radical disturbance of the values and culture he lived in. He had no time for the idea of the deserving and the undeserving, the strivers and the skivers, the good and the bad. He wanted to communicate kingdom values; a culture of upside-down inclusive love instead of law-led benevolence to the ‘deserving’ only.

And people didn’t like that very much. Particularly some of the religious leaders and teachers.

We, too, might balk at the idea of grace. We, too, might think that we deserve more recognition from God for years of service and worship or for all we have done for the church. Then when someone comes along in the eleventh hour and gets given her one denarius, just like us, we might mutter a bit.

But if we sink into grace we can be freed from all of those chains of resentment and hurt, and brought into a place of liberation where we only wish more on others – where we want them to be ahead of us, where our heart beats with God’s sweeping, all-embracing love, where forgiveness doesn’t feel unfair and unjust but seems like another step to freedom and perfect peace.

But if we sink into grace we can be freed from all of those chains of resentment and hurt, and brought into a place of liberation where we only wish more on others – where we want them to be ahead of us, where our heart beats with God’s sweeping, all-embracing love, where forgiveness doesn’t feel unfair and unjust but seems like another step to freedom and perfect peace.

I sometimes think about it as a mother with two children. If one of them decided to live in a way I found difficult – if they were mean and oppressive to the poor, or decided to join the BNP or something <sorry, kids, I know very well this would never happen, thankfully – you’re just being used yet again as an easy illustration for your lazy mother> and the other stayed kind and generous, then my heart would hurt. But I wouldn’t want to ostracise one against the other, I wouldn’t want to tell that one that they could never be my child, that I hated them now and nothing they could do would earn my love. I wouldn’t tell them, if they asked my forgiveness, that it wasn’t fair to the other so sorry, it’s a no-go on that one, love.

Because unconditional love doesn’t quite work like that.

Instead, I’d want to welcome them in, just like the prodigal son (oh look! Another grace story!), with the fatted calf and rich robe (well, the Dominos pizza and fleecy sofa blanket, anyway), take them in my arms and tell them that I loved them and always would – that I didn’t like their actions, but that I would forgive them as they’d asked me, that I would pour out my love on them and bring them home with joy and celebration. This wouldn’t make my love for the other less balanced or unfair. The other would still be as wildly loved and accepted, and that would never be changed – as love was never in question, for either.

Grace is scandalous, says Philip Yancey in his fabulous book What’s so Amazing About Grace? (Buy it. Now.) Grace is grace because it doesn’t look fair to us, it doesn’t look in the correct order of things, it rewards the people we think shouldn’t be rewarded because they don’t deserve to be. But grace has this beautiful fragrance about it. It lifts us above those petty jealousies and grudges we so easily develop and launches us into God’s emancipatory narrative, which releases our deepest selves from the animosity we hold so closely to us.

In grace, there is no room for selfishness or pride. There’s no grabbing for power or the outworkings of prejudice. Grace drowns hatred and pettiness. Grace may be scandalous, but it’s a narrative of joy and delight, where we become closer to the people we are created to be. We forget about the deserving and the undeserving and run headlong into the audacious kingdom love we’re made for – and thrive in.

We forget about the deserving and the undeserving and run headlong into the audacious kingdom love we’re made for – and thrive in.

It doesn’t just turn round the values of the world, it turns around the values of us, too.

It makes us glad to be last.

Grace is unfair?

Yes. And I love it.

What about you? What’s your experience of grace?

'We forget about the deserving and the undeserving and run headlong into the audacious kingdom love we're made for - and thrive in.' That Amazing Unfair Grace Thing Click To Tweet 'If we sink into grace we can be freed from all of those chains of resentment and hurt, and brought into a place of liberation where we only wish more on others.' That Amazing Unfair Grace Thing Click To Tweet

 

I’d love you to join my newsletter if you’d like to hear about details of my writing, books, articles etc, and also receive a free Bible study guide about ‘Beauty and the Beast!’

 

Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Copyright © 2018 Liz Carter
%d bloggers like this: